Nikka Pure Malt Black

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The enigma that is the Pure Malt range from Nikka. What is in this whisky? It’s a secret and it epitomizes the Japanese philosophy on whisky production. There’s a bit more experimentation with blending, there’s a bit more hidden behind the label, there is a lack of sharing with others but a willingness to acquire Scottish gold. I’ll attempt to disperse a bit of the fog surrounding this particular expression as well as the line it comes from.

Nikka Pure Malt Black is probably the most widely available and commonly encountered expression from the Pure Malt range. The labeling of pure malt indicates that only malt whisky was used to produce these expressions. However, there may be a bit of a caveat to this since Nikka may have used their Coffey malt (using only malt but distilled in Coffey stills instead of pot stills). Under the Scotch Whisky Associations rules this would be called grain whisky. However, the use of the term Pure Malt is also forbidden for Scottish whiskies, which must use the term blended malt instead.

If you think that is confusing, get ready to fall deeper into this rabbit hole. While attending the Evening with the Blenders event at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, I spoke to the Master Blender for Nikka, Tadashi Sakuma. I asked him about the rumours that Scottish whisky was used in the Pure Malt series. He grinned slightly and nodded his head, then told me he could not say which ones. Seeing as how Nikka own Ben Nevis distillery, I think it is likely that they used whisky from Ben Nevis, however, by not telling me which distilleries were included he seemed to hint that there were more. Indeed the rumours suggest that the Pure Malt White expression contains a bit of Islay whiskies. How Nikka acquired these whiskies is truly perplexing and I can only assume they traded Ben Nevis spirit for it.

Anyway, enough of this whisky riddle, let’s talk about something more substantiated. There are three expressions in the Pure Malt series: Black, White, and Red. White is supposed to be the peaty one hence the rumours of Islay whiskies. Red is supposed to be the soft and easy drinking one. While Black lies somewhere in between perhaps representing the most balanced of the range. It’s hard not to see some like-ness in branding to the Johnnie Walker range but other than using colours and a sort of fuzzy matching of flavour profiles, these are a different type of whisky all together.

Type: Blend of malt whiskies but may not comply with Scottish standards for this category.

Distillery: Blend of whisky from Nikka owned malt distilleries. May contain whisky from Ben Nevis Distillery. Rumoured to also contain whisky from other Scottish distilleries. May also contain Coffey malt whisky from their Miyagikyo Coffey stills.

Age: NAS

Cask: Unknown but most likely a blend of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks

ABV: 43%

Price: £39.29 from the Master of Malt

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Visit Scottish Distilleries

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Looking to visit your first Scottish distillery? Or looking to bag a few more? Well you’re in luck because we’ve compiled a list of Scottish distilleries with visitor centre information. Not all distilleries have visitor centres, and fewer of them have easily accesible online information about tours. So I have added links for distillery visitor centre websites or websites that contain information about visiting. I have also marked the ones we’ve been to with a “V” and those that we had tours at with a “T”. This is to indicate that we will write up post  about these in the future (if we haven’t done so already).  There will also be links to our distillery visit posts designated by “Post”.

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Port Ellen Maltings Tour

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Port Ellen is known for the closed distillery whose whisky now fetches insane prices at auctions, however the site of the distillery is now used as a maltings. The maltings is owned by Diageo and thus supplies Caol Ila and Lagavulin, however they also supply Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain, and Tobermory (for Ledaig) . While this site is usually closed to visitors, they open it up for tours once a year during the Islay Feis Ile (music and whisky festival) . We were lucky enough to go to Feis ile this year and obviously had to go on the maltings tour!  Here’s a brief summary of the tour for those who are interested.

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Nikka From The Barrel

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My favourite thing about Nikka is how adventurous they are with their releases. It really reflects the character of their founder Masataka Taketsuru who pioneered the art of whisky making in Japan. This expression exemplifies Nikka’s unique approach to whisky. It’s a blended whisky served up at cask strength (you don’t see that often!). Hence “From the barrel”, indicating that it is basically direct from the barrel. According to their website, they marry the blend in used casks for 3-6 months before bottling. While I could not find information about this anywhere, I am assuming that the whisky going into this blend is from Nikka’s Japanese distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Although they could have also used whisky from their Scottish distillery, Ben Nevis distillery. Just for clarification, Miyagikyo distillery has both a malt distillery and a grain distillery. So whisky from Miyagikyo could be either. Some other adventurous expressions from Nikka include: Nikka Coffey Malt, Nikka Coffey Grain, and Nikka Pure Malt.  We were gifted a bottle of “From The Barrel” by our friends, Frank and Sabrina, in Munich, Germany!

 

Type: Blended Whisky

Distillery: Presumably a blend of Yoichi, Miyagikyo, and Miyagikyo grain

Age: No Age Statement

Cask: No statement, but married for 3-6 months in oak casks before bottling

ABV: 51.4%

Price: £33.88 from the Master of Malt

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Lagavulin Feis Ile 2016 (18 Year Old) Review

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Twas the 200th year of Lagavulin Distillery, and the whiskers were all abuzz about the Feis Ile 2016 release but magistrates at Diageo spoke not a peep about what was perhaps the most anticipated Lagavulin release ever. Only hours before they opened up their doors on Saturday (May 21st), the word spread round that the 200th Anniversary Feis Ile bottling would be an 18 year old with 6000 bottles produced and priced at $125. It was, to be frank, a bit of a let down considering last years 24 year old which was only 3 quid more at £128. To make it even more lackluster, the casks used were not particularly novel for them. Refill bourbon hogsheads and bodega sherry butts. Actually pretty much identical to the Lagavulin Jazz Festival 2015 bottling. And since the globally distributed 200th anniversary bottling was an 8 year old, I was hoping for something extra special for the Feis Ile bottling.

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Ardbeg Galileo Review

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The Ardbeg Galileo was released in 2012 to commemorate Ardbeg’s first space adventure. What’s all this about? Well the story goes that one of the lead people at NanoRacks (a company producing lab equipment for space missions) approached Ardbeg and asked them if they would be interested in doing a little whisky experiment. This experiment was basically to send up Ardbeg spirit into space in test tubes with oak shavings to see how the spirit would age in a micro-gravity environment. Thus the endeavor was to make space whisky. How cool is that? Very cool.

In order to mark the occasion, Ardbeg released this aptly named Galileo expression which seemed to cause a bit of confusion amongst the uninitiated. For a while (and possibly still today) some people thought that the Galileo was in fact space whisky from this experiment. While the bottles did seem a bit expensive at the time, they were no where near expensive enough or rare enough to be space whisky. That’s common sense folks.

I was particularly attracted to the Galileo because my father worked on the space mission of the same name. While I am still looking to buy a bottle at a reasonable price as a gift for him, we were able to get a sample when we visitied Ardbeg with the Water of Life Society. From a whisky standpoint this is quite an interesting whisky because it is, to my knowledge, the only official bottling of Ardbeg that was aged in wine casks (Corryvrecken was aged in ex-wine casks that had been washed out to remove all wine residue). So without further ado, let’s taste!

 

Distillery: Ardbeg Distillery

Age: 12 Years Old (Distilled 1999 bottled June 7th 2012)

Cask: Ex-bourbon and Marsala Casks

ABV: 49%

Price: Around £80 when it was first released in 2012. Now around £120 at auctions and more in stores.

 

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Bowmore Devil’s Cask Batch #3

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Tis a long story this one, with many factions developing along the way. It began in 2013 when the first batch of Bowmore Devil’s Cask was released. With 6,000 bottles and an RRP of about £60, it was sold out before most people even knew it was available. What was so special about this bottling that made people go wild? Well I guess the marketting was spot on and the packaging didn’t hurt. But probably the big deal was that it was a Bowmore fully matured in first fill sherry casks and bottled at cask strength. These kinds of things tend to excite the whisky geeks (definitely excited me). And that colour!

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